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Information Management Health Check Survey Reveals Corporate Need to Transition to Deal with Infinite Retention

Backup problems are supposed to be gone, right? All you have to do is throw in some disk and a good dose of deduplication and organizational backup problems will magically disappear. So while that may be true up to a point, today’s newly released Information Management Health Check survey conducted by Applied Research and sponsored by Symantec reveals that organizations are failing to take into account the implications of what infinite backup retention periods mean for them long term.

Over the last few years, disk-based backup done in conjunction with deduplication has been dangled in front of users as a short cut to fixing their backup problems. In that respect, it has delivered on its promise. Environments with disk-based backup report that their backup jobs complete successfully over 99% of the time, finish within designated backup windows and consume less disk storage capacity as a result of their use of deduplication.

That is the good news. The bad news is that organizations are failing to recognize that they need to shift gears regarding the management of the information that these backups contain. Because even though backups are completing successfully and on time, organizations have been grown accustomed over the years to keeping all of their backup data forever or using backups as a substitute for an archive.

This organizational mindset became a bit clearer based upon the responses from nearly 1700 enterprise organizations and released in today’s Information Management Health Check report. The survey revealed that most organizations are still clinging to these practices as it found:

  • 75% of data in backups are configured for infinite retention or are on legal hold
  • 25% of the data in these backups is not needed and can be deleted
  • 70% of these organizations perform legal holds using backup
  • 25% of respondents preserve entire backup sets to satisfy the conditions of a legal hold even though only specific files or documents in the backup data set may be needed
  • Enterprises cited that, on average, 40% of information placed on legal hold is not specifically relevant for that litigation.  
  • 45% of the backup storage in these organizations comes from legal holds

These organizational practices of over retaining backup data sets or using backup data sets in lieu of an archive are somewhat understandable. Years of unpredictable backup success rates have conditioned organizations to “play it safe” and keep all good backup data sets indefinitely.

Yet today’s environment where backups complete successfully has more than negated the need for these legacy organizational practices; it has made them hazardous to the economic health of organizations in three distinct ways.

  • Over retention of backup data. Deduplication has made it easier for companies to justify keeping their backup data on disk for indefinite periods of time because of this data’s smaller footprint on disk. But even deduplicated backup data sets grow. So by keeping all backup data indefinitely, eventually more capacity will be needed to store it that will result in increased storage costs. Further, organizations now often replicate this data to a secondary site for disaster recovery so more storage capacity is also needed at that site which adds more cost.
  • Poor archiving methodology. Just because organizations use backup data sets as an archive does not mean that these backup data sets are well suited to function as an archive especially when it comes time to look for data in these archives. This was illustrated in a separate survey done in the spring of 2009 that revealed employees in financial and public sector jobs spend almost 20% of their time searching for information that is located in inaccessible repositories like backup data sets.
  • eDiscovery exposure. Organizations are bound to retain data that is subject to legal holds or to remain in compliance with laws or statutes governing their industry. However if the conditions of the legal hold are lifted or the time frame specified by the statute met, keeping data longer than required only serves to expose that organization to unforeseen liabilities in the future should they be subject to an eDiscovery request.

The results of this Information Management Health Check survey should serve as a wake-up call to organizations that how they view the management of information in general and how they manage backups specifically needs to change.

Their historical focus on managing the backup process itself (backup jobs, backup windows, etc.) is no less needed as the introduction of disk-based backup and deduplication into the backup process has largely solved that problem. But what this does mean is that they need to refocus on how to optimally manage the information contained in their backup data sets.

To help organizations do this Symantec has made a website available for organizations that they can access. Once there they can complete a survey to see how they stack up against the 1680 companies included in the Information Management Health Check survey and, after completing the survey, they will get a copy of the report along with a few pointers on what they might do next.

For some, it may be taking the initial steps of putting an information management and retention strategy in place. Others who are further down the road and have already put a plan in place and solved their immediate backup problems may be ready for next steps such as putting in place an information management and retention solution such as what Symantec’s Enterprise Vault offers.

However regardless of where an organization is at, about the biggest mistake it can make is to do assume that its information management problems will solve themselves. As this survey suggests, new technologies such as disk-based backup and deduplication are making traditional backup problems disappear. But as they do, organizations need to adopt a new mindset of optimally managing all of their information no matter where it resides.

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